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Tuesday, November 28, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Gregoire wants to delay WASL math requirement

Times Snohomish County Bureau

Gov. Christine Gregoire and Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson have proposed delaying a requirement that students pass a statewide math test in order to graduate from high school.

Members of the classes of 2008, 2009 and 2010 could successfully complete additional math classes instead of passing the Washington Assessment of Student Learning test under the proposal announced Monday. The classes for those three years are the first required to meet WASL standards in reading, writing and math to graduate.

Gregoire and Bergeson said they will ask the Legislature next year to approve the transition period, which would be used to strengthen math teaching, help struggling students and select effective math texts.

The failure of 49 percent of sophomores — about 34,000 — to pass the math portion of the WASL last spring and in summer re-takes led to cries among parents and some educators to delay the math WASL graduation requirement.

Under the governor's proposal, students would still have to pass the reading and writing sections of the test.

"The system didn't get good grades, so why penalize the students?" Gregoire said at a news conference in Olympia.

The State Board of Education is expected to vote today on an action plan to improve students' math skills. Among its proposals will be a similar postponement of the 10th-grade math WASL graduation requirement through 2010.

But state officials acknowledge there is much they don't know about the present math crisis. There's no consensus on why students failed the math section of the WASL, no strategy to help the students with the lowest scores, and no certainty about where highly effective teaching is taking place in order to replicate it, according to a staff analysis prepared for the state board.

The action plan proposed by the Board of Education also calls for the state to clarify and revise math standards, to require more than the current two credits of high-school math to graduate, and to recruit and retain more highly qualified math teachers.

The board would be able to make some of the proposed changes; others would be subject to legislative approval.

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Seattle School Board member Darlene Flynn called the governor's proposal "fair and reasonable" and said it gets to the heart of the problem — that far too many students of color aren't earning a diploma.

While 57 percent of white 10th-graders and 60 percent of Asian Americans across the state met math standards on the WASL this spring, just 23 percent of African-American students and 25 percent of Hispanics did so.

Flynn noted that Seattle has delayed adopting a new math curriculum until the state narrows its list of recommended texts. There are more than 50 math curriculums in use around the state, according to the state.

Bellevue Schools Superintendent Mike Riley said he applauds Gregoire's proposal for continuing to place importance on math education while addressing system weaknesses.

He said the math WASL itself needs to be examined and cited Bellevue's experience, where high-school students score well on the SAT math test but do poorly on the state assessment.

"If a teacher gave a test that 50 percent failed, she'd be asking, 'Did I do something wrong? Didn't I give you the skills you need?' The state should have been asking this for several years," Riley said.

Business leaders have championed raising the bar on student math skills, noting that the WASL tests only about an eighth-grade knowledge and contains little algebra. Currently, about half of state students who go on to college need to take remedial math courses.

Marc Frazer, vice president of the Washington Roundtable, a coalition of the state's largest employers, said the state must use the transitional three years to create a more rigorous math system and graduation requirements that go "well beyond" the WASL.

"We believe the WASL has put a bright light on the deficiencies of math education in the state. Now the state needs to remediate itself," he said.

Seattle Times staff reporter Ralph Thomas contributed to this story. Lynn Thompson: 425-745-7807

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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